A number of years ago, I wrote a book about how to minimize stress while going through infertility and had the brilliant thought (in the middle of the night, of course) to call it “Infertility Sucks."
For better or worse, my editor completely ignored that suggestion and, as it turned out, there's already a book out there with that name anyway. But it really does sum up the whole experience of infertility.
Other than Mother’s Day, there's likely no other time of the year where individuals and couples who are struggling to get pregnant face more challenges than the holidays. After all, it’s the season of The Infant (baby Jesus), Toys (every television commercial) and Intrusive Relatives (you know who they are).
As a psychologist with a focus on infertility and stress, I've spent more than 25 years talking my patients through the loneliness, anger, sadness and anxiety that this supposedly joyous season brings. Here's what I recommend when it comes to dealing with nine challenging situations:
1. The passing of another year.
Many people mark their years of infertility by how many holidays they've had while trying to get pregnant. So it's common to think, “Wow, this is our third Christmas without a baby."
Instead, reframe this by having a conversation about how 2016 will be different. Maybe resolve to get a second opinion, change your lifestyle habits or join a support group.
2. Attending holiday parties.
I have a patient experiencing infertility who just went to a holiday dinner party. The hostess, who was pregnant with an IVF baby, sat my patient in between two pregnant women. Unbelievable.
You really do have the choice as to whether or not to go to a party. Stomach bugs are everywhere these days — feel free to call and give your last-minute apology. And if you do go, plan to hang with an older crowd, who won’t be complaining about the cost of diapers.
3. Pregnancy announcements from loved ones.
After Thanksgiving, I saw three patients in a row who had been subjected to pregnancy announcements over the Thanksgiving table, in front of everyone. Not easy.
It's important to avoid being caught off-guard. Prepare yourself for a possible pregnancy announcement at a holiday gathering, even if the only attendees are 44-year-old unmarried cousins. (Yes, that actually happened to one of my patients. Her 44-year-old unmarried and not dating cousin announced that she was expecting.)
So prepare how you will react (poker face), prepare what to say (even if it feels insincere) and have an escape plan ready (see advice above about that stomach bug).
4. Memories of holiday traditions.
If you have a partner, this time of year can bring up a lot of wistful memories and desires. Each of you may want to recreate your own childhood holiday season.
Decide to make your own new holiday traditions together, and pick and choose the ones from your childhoods that would work for you now. You can always add more when your own family increases in size.
5. Intrusive questions from relatives.
There's one in every family — that person who somehow knows how to make a comment or ask a question that's mean and intrusive without sounding that way to others.
To counter relatives' questions, memorize some snappy comeback lines to the queries which bother you the most. This way you'll be prepared.
6. Seeing family members with children.
It can be tough when your siblings have children and you see your parents revel in them. Plus, that sibling rivalry never really dies.
So although you may love your nieces and nephews, it can still be hard to watch them tear into their gifts while the adults look on lovingly.
Before the gathering, think about what would work to help you deal with this. For example, you might decide to skip the present bonanza and show up for Christmas dinner instead.
7. Attending kid-centric religious services.
If seeing friends and family appear with their kids in their Sunday best causes you angst, there's no rule that says you have to go to that service.
Instead, attend a service early in the morning or later in the evening, to minimize the chance that there will be lots of children there. Or, visit a church where you don’t know anyone or one that caters less to families.
8. Buying presents for children.
Shopping for toys for nieces, nephews, and the kids of friends can be painful. Be self-protective here. Remember all the books you loved when you were little? Go online and order away. Or make this a gift card kind of year.
9. Drinks at holiday gatherings.
To drink or not to drink? On the one hand, a glass of wine or a stiff eggnog may well take the sting out of a holiday party and will keep others from asking if you're finally expecting. But also be aware that alcohol may decrease fertility.
Still, most of the research shows it's how many alcoholic beverages you have per week. In other words, drink wisely, but a glass or two here and there is unlikely to make a difference
How To Approach The Holidays This Year
Don’t force yourself to feel fine during this period. This is a really hard time, and you need to have some compassion for yourself. Feeling jealous and miserable and lonely are perfectly normal reactions to seeing all the joy around you.
You can also completely turn this around and do for others who are less fortunate. Volunteer to feed the homeless on Christmas Day, or visit a pet shelter and cuddle with puppies and kittens. Or, just stay home and watch "I Love Lucy" reruns with your hands wrapped around a mug of hot chocolate. Spiked or not.
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